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Happy in the New World

Author Photo
By Capper's Staff | Mar 11, 2013

Reprinted courtesy of the Thousand Oaks News Chronicle.

Ursula Riccio was a 14-year-old girl from Austria who had only a trunk of clothes and “one coin” when she went through Ellis Island, alone, on her way to Connecticut.

“It was a big building full of people,” she recalled in an Austrian accent. “All the people were lined up against the walls and were sitting with their feet up.”

Riccio’s father came to the United States around the turn of the century and wanted to bring his wife, son and four daughters to his new country.

He returned to Austria with hopes of selling the family farm in Thorlmagoern, but he couldn’t find a buyer.

Times were tough, Riccio, 96, recalled. Her father found work in a lumber mill. While working to earn money to get his family to the United States, part of his hand was cut off in an accident at the mill.

U.S. officials classified Riccio’s father as handicapped because of his injury and he was barred from immigrating.

Instead, he sent his wife and children to the United States.

Riccio traveled across Germany alone. Her mother, brother and sisters had earlier gone to the United States.

The Austrian teenager had no shoes. Her father gave her some money and told her to buy shoes along the way.

Not knowing a great deal about shoes, Riccio bought some comfortable bedroom slippers in Germany and wore those during her cross-Atlantic trip.

Her introduction to United States in 1908 was a quick lesson in the hard, cold realities of her new country.

Riccio had a favorite red ring. She took it off and placed it on a shelf while washing her hands at Ellis Island. When she finished washing her hands, the ring was gone.

Even finding her family at a train station was not without risk. Riccio was to meet her family in Connecticut. It was October, and she had not seen her family since they had left the previous January.

She looked through the train station.

She looked and looked.

So did her sisters.

Finally, a young girl walked up and gave her a vague look of recognition.

She asked, “Are you Ursula?”

“I didn’t recognize my own sister,” Riccio said.

Dress styles were much different in Connecticut than they were in Austria, she said. Her family had changed much in the New World.

Riccio didn’t bring far-flung dreams or romantic images of life in the United States when she left Austria.

When asked what was on her mind as she traveled to the United States, she replied: “I hope it’s a nice country. As long as my family is there, I’ll make it nice.”

She added, “I’ve always been happy since I’ve been here.” Riccio has lived in Thousand Oaks since 1961. She has a daughter and a son, seven grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.

Submitted by Mary Nelson
Thousand Oaks, California

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.

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